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Court Finds Plaintiff Is Not Bound by Arbitration Agreement in Arizona Personal Injury Lawsuit

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona wrongful death lawsuit brought on behalf of a nursing home resident who died after falling out of a wheelchair. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s mother was admitted to the nursing home in 2013. At admission, the plaintiff, acting as the “responsible party,” signed the forms for his mother because she was suffering from various cognitive and physical impairments. Included in the admissions agreement was an arbitration clause for “any dispute as to medical malpractice.” The issue on appeal was whether the plaintiff’s cause of action falls under medical malpractice and if the arbitration clause bound him.

The incident giving rise to the action occurred when the woman was returning to her room after breakfast. A certified nursing assistant was pushing the woman’s wheelchair when the woman’s foot got caught in a loose cord. The entanglement caused the woman to go flying out of her wheelchair head-first onto the floor, breaking her neck upon impact. The woman died from her injuries several days later. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the nursing home, alleging that they were negligent and liable for his mother’s wrongful death. The nursing home moved to compel arbitration, arguing that although on its face the claim seemed like a negligence action, it was actually a medical malpractice claim.

Arizona law provides that the primary prerequisite to compelling arbitration is an actual agreement to do so. When there is a disagreement about whether the parties agreed to arbitrate, the courts will look to the parties’ intent by evaluating the language of the agreement. In this case, the arbitration clause defines “medical malpractice” as a dispute related to medical services. Further, the legislature defines “medical services” as actions that relate to medical care and are performed at the direction of healthcare professionals.

The defendant argued that the court should look to other language in the agreement. Additionally, the defendant claimed that the plaintiff’s investigation into previous falls, inadequate supervision, and training issues heightened the case from ordinary negligence into medical malpractice. However, the court reasoned that claims do not amount to medical malpractice simply because they occur at a nursing home. Moreover, the plaintiff did not allege misconduct related to the practice of medicine, but rather the negligence of a staff member while merely transporting the woman from breakfast to her room. Ultimately, the appellate court found in favor of the plaintiff and declined to compel arbitration.

Have You or a Loved One Suffered Injuries at an Arizona Nursing Home?

If you or someone you know has suffered serious injuries at an Arizona nursing home, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The dedicated Arizona personal injury attorneys at Abels & Annes, P.C., have collected millions on behalf of injury victims in Arizona. Our attorneys fiercely advocate on behalf of our clients while simultaneously providing them with the compassion and sensitivity that they deserve. Arizona nursing home abuse and neglect cases are rarely straight forward, and we possess the skills and experience to handle even the most challenging lawsuits. Contact our office at 855-749-5299 to schedule a free initial consultation with an attorney at our law firm.

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